Virus Crisis Exacts Growing Toll on Massachusetts Nonprofits

March 17, 2020 — Nonprofits across Massachusetts are starting to feel the financial shocks from the unprecedented, unfolding crisis caused by the coronavirus, with nearly all altering staff work schedules, cancelling or postponing events, or improvising approaches to delivering services.

The United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley, based in Boston, noting that "many nonprofit agencies will face financial disruption...[putting] serious pressure on nonprofit operating budgets."

Among those likely to be hard hit, the United Way said, are nonprofit agencies that will see increased demand for food assistance in light of school closures, as several hundred thousand children across the state rely on federally funded school-based programs for one, two, or more meals each day.

Noting that "our work must not stop," The Boston Foundation, based in Boston, acknowledging that many nonprofit operations are being affected by the pandemic, said, "We will be looking for opportunities to work with our own funds and in partnership with donors to support those most impacted by the virus and the resulting health and economic disruptions."

Beth Francis, president and CEO of the Essex County Community Foundation, based in Danvers, quoted in The Salem News, said, "All nonprofits, no matter the cause, will be impacted by the COVID-19 crisis. Most have canceled fundraising events and activities; all will incur significantly increased expenses to serve the rising need."

Philanthropy Massachusetts, a Boston-based regional association of grant makers, will host a free, virtual roundtable discussion March 19 at 11 a.m. on how funders are responding, actions they are considering and/or taking, and possible collective actions under consideration. Learn more.

Food pantries across Massachusetts, including the Greater Boston Food Bank in Boston, are continuing to operate, although many are modifying operations. The Open Door in Gloucester, cancelled large volunteer groups but noted that it still needs volunteers. The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts in Hatfield today announced suspension of its mobile food bank and is taking steps "to ensure continuity of operations."

Kayte Morris, executive director of Island Food Pantry in Vineyard Haven, told The Vineyard Gazette that families have been coming in at record numbers this winter, but that volunteers are coming forward. The paper noted that the Island Food Equity Network met yesterday to develop plans to get food to needy people on Marth'as Vineyard, including schoolchildren and the elderly.

Nonprofit Fundraising Events Cancelled or Postponed

Many Massachusetts nonprofits that rely on events during the spring to generate a significant share of the their annual fundraising total have cancelled or postponed those fundraisers. Among them:
  • The Boston Athletic Association based in Boston, which organizes the Boston Marathon —which generated a record $39 million for nonprofits last year—postponed the annual 26-mile event for the first time in its 124-year history, from April 20 to Sept. 14. It is not known how the change will impact nonprofits that were anticipating raising funds next month.

  • Easter Seals of Massachusetts, based in Worcester, a statewide nonprofit that provides services to and advocates for people with disabilities, cancelled its annual Evening of Empowerment event, set for April 2, its largest fundraiser of the year, according to CBS Boston. It was expected to generate about $250,000, or a quarter of the organization's annual fundraising total.

  • Project Bread, the state’s leading anti-hunger organization, based in Boston, on Friday announced it cancelled its 52nd annual Walk for Hunger, set for May 3, its signature fundraiser that generated $2 million last year. Noting that the need for the funds it raises via the Walk for Hunger, the oldest pledge walk in the country, will grow due to COVID-19, the diseases caused by a coronavirus. The organization is asking individuals to sign up for a virtual fundraiser in place of the walk.

  • Commonwealth Shakespeare Company, based in Boston, which stages full-length Shakespearean plays each summer on the Boston Common, last Friday announced it is postponing its annual gala, set for March 28. It said tickets will be transferable to a new date yet to be set, noting that the organization may be unable to reschedule the event.
Other major events cancelled or postponed include the following:
  • The opening ceremony commemorating the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower voyage and the founding of Plymouth Colony in 1620, originally set for April 24. Plymouth 400 based in Plymouth, the nonprofit formed to lead the planning and execution of programs and events, said the event will be held June 24, "subject to conditions at the time."

  • The United Way of Central Massachusetts postponed the opening reception of its 100th-anniversary exhibit at the Worcester Historical Museum, scheduled for March 18. A rescheduled date for the event has not been set.

  • The We are Cambridge celebration, hosted by the Cambridge Community Foundation, scheduled for April 16, has been postponed. A new date has yet to be set.

  • Victory Programs in Boston postponed its Dinnerfest Auction from April 30 to Sept. 24.

  • All events and programs to be held at Tower Hill Botanic Garden in Boylston, through April 3, have been cancelled, although facilities and grounds will remain open during regular hours.

  • The Worcester Cultural Coalition in Worcester cancelled its legislative breakfast last Friday.

  • Boston Area Gleaners in Waltham cancelled its annual April Food Day event set for April 1.

  • The Massachusetts Nonprofit Network, the state's nonprofit trade association, cancelled its Greater Boston regional meeting, and will instead host the event as a free webinar on March 20 at 9:30 a.m.
Numerous other Massachusetts nonprofits that had planned events for more than 25 people—banned as of today through April 6—are cancelling or postponing them, in line with the guidance issued by the state prohibiting such gatherings, including, but not limited, to community, civic, public and leisure gatherings, faith-based events, sporting events with spectators, concerts, conventions, fundraisers, parades, fairs, and festivals.

The YMCA of Greater Boston, which operates 16 sites in Boston, Charlestown, Reading, Waltham, and Woburn, announced it closed its fitness centers and pools as of March 16 and would use its facilities to feed children and to care for the youth and teens in the communities it serves.

Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals ”“ Angell Animal Medical Center announced that its Boston and Waltham sites will be closed to all patients, starting March 18, except for urgent and emergency cases.

Arts organizations across the state have closed or cancelled events. See a current list of Greater Boston closings. More are listed here.

Partners in Health (PIH). a Boston-based nonprofit that provides health services to some of the poorest regions of the world, on Friday announced it is launching a comprehensive effort to support a response across its network of supported countries around the world to "contain and control the spread of the virus... and demonstrate to the world what aggressive action in vulnerable settings can achieve."

PIH said the COVID-19 mortality rate is anticipated to be far worse in the places where it works, and that "it is unclear if the current global response accounts for the factors in these settings."